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History of the Conflict


The starting point of the conflict in the Darfur region is typically said to be 26 February 2003, when a group calling itself the Darfur Liberation Front (DLF) publicly claimed credit for an attack on Golo, the headquarters of Jebel Marra District. Even prior to this attack, however, a conflict had erupted in Darfur, as rebels had already attacked police stations, army outposts and military convoys, and the government had engaged in a massive air and land assault on the rebel stronghold in the Marrah Mountains. The rebels' first military action was a successful attack on an army garrison on the mountain on 25 February 2002 and the Sudanese government had been aware of a unified rebel movement since an attack on the Golo police station in June 2002. Chroniclers Julie Flint and Alex de Waal state that the beginning of the rebellion is better dated to 21 July 2001, when a group of Zaghawa and Fur met in Abu Gamra and swore oaths on the Qur'an to work together to defend against government-sponsored attacks on their villages. It should be noted that nearly all of the residents of Darfur are Muslim, as are the Janjaweed and the government leaders in Khartoum.

On 25 March, the rebels seized the garrison town of Tine along the Chadian border, seizing large quantities of supplies and arms. Despite a threat by President Omar al-Bashir to "unleash" the army, the military had little in reserve. The army was already deployed both to the south, where the Second Sudanese Civil War was drawing to an end, and the east, where rebels sponsored by Eritrea were threatening the newly constructed pipeline from the central oilfields to Port Sudan. The rebel tactic of hit-and-run raids using Toyota Land Cruisers to speed across the semi-desert region proved almost impossible for the army, untrained in desert operations, to counter. However, its aerial bombardment of rebel positions on the mountain was devastating.

At 5:30 am on 25 April 2003, a joint Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and JEM force in 33 Land Cruisers entered al-Fashir and attacked the sleeping garrison. In the next four hours, four Antonov bombers and helicopter gunships, according to the government, (seven according to the rebels) were destroyed on the ground, 75 soldiers, pilots and technicians were killed and 32 were captured, including the commander of the air base, a Major General. The success of the raid was unprecedented in Sudan; in the 20 years of the war in the south, the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) had never carried out such an operation.

Unleashing the Janjaweed (2003)

The al-Fashir raid was a turning point both militarily and psychologically. The armed forces had been humiliated by the al-Fashir raid and the government was faced with a difficult strategic situation. The armed forces would clearly need to be retrained and redeployed to fight this new kind of war and there were well-founded concerns about the loyalty of the many Darfurian non-commissioned officers and soldiers in the army. Responsibility for prosecuting the war was given to Sudanese Military Intelligence. Nevertheless, in the middle months of 2003, the rebels won 34 of 38 engagements. In May, the SLA destroyed a battalion at Kutum, killing 500 and taking 300 prisoners and in mid-July, 250 were killed in a second attack on Tine. The SLA began to infiltrate farther east, threatening to extend the war into Kordofan.

However, at this point the government changed its strategy. Given that the army was being consistently defeated, the war effort depended on three elements: Military Intelligence, the air force, and the Janjaweed, armed Baggara herders whom the government had begun directing in repression of a Masalit uprising in 1996-1999. The Janjaweed were put at the center of the new counter-insurgency strategy. Military resources were poured into Darfur and the Janjaweed were outfitted as a paramilitary force, complete with communication equipment and some artillery. The military planners were doubtlessly aware of the probable consequences of such a strategy—similar methods undertaken in the Nuba Mountains and around the southern oil fields during the 1990's had resulted in massive human rights violations and forced displacements.

The better-armed Janjaweed quickly gained the upper hand. By the spring of 2004, several thousand people — mostly from the non-Arab population — had been killed and as many as a million more had been driven from their homes, causing a major humanitarian crisis in the region. The crisis took on an international dimension when over 100,000 refugees poured into neighbouring Chad, pursued by Janjaweed militiamen, who clashed with Chadian government forces along the border. More than 70 militiamen and 10 Chadian soldiers were killed in one gun battle in April. A United Nations observer team reported that non-Arab villages were singled out while Arab villages were left untouched:

"The 23 Fur villages in the Shattaya Administrative Unit have been completely depopulated, looted and burnt to the ground (the team observed several such sites driving through the area for two days). Meanwhile, dotted alongside these charred locations are unharmed, populated and functioning Arab settlements. In some locations, the distance between a destroyed Fur village and an Arab village is less than 500 meters."

In 2004, Chad brokered negotiations in N'Djamena, leading to the April 8 Humanitarian Ceasefire Agreement between the Sudanese government, JEM, and SLM. A group splintered from the JEM in April — the National Movement for Reform and Development — which did not participate in the April cease-fire talks or agreement. Janjaweed and rebel attacks have continued since the ceasefire. The African Union (AU) formed a Ceasefire Commission (CFC) to monitor observance of the putative ceasefire.

The scale of the crisis led to warnings of an imminent disaster, with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan warning that the risk of genocide is frighteningly real in Darfur. The scale of the Janjaweed campaign led to comparisons with the Rwandan Genocide, a parallel hotly denied by the Sudanese government. Independent observers noted that the tactics, which include dismemberment and killing of noncombatants and even young children and babies, are more akin to the ethnic cleansing used in the Yugoslav Wars but have warned that the region's remoteness means that hundreds of thousands are effectively cut off from aid. The Brussels-based International Crisis Group reported in May 2004 that over 350,000 people could potentially die as a result of starvation and disease.

On 10 July 2005, Ex-SPLA leader John Garang was sworn in as Sudan's vice-president. However, on 30 July 2005, Garang died in a helicopter crash. His death had long-term implications and, despite improved security, talks between the various rebels in the Darfur region went slowly.

An attack on the Chadian town of Adre near the Sudanese border led to the deaths of three hundred rebels in December 2005. Sudan was blamed for the attack, which was the second in the region in three days. The escalating tensions in the region led to the government of Chad declaring its hostility toward Sudan and calling for Chadian citizens to mobilise themselves against the "common enemy".

May Agreement (2006)

On May 5, 2006, the government of Sudan signed an accord with the faction of the SLA led by Minni Minnawi. However, the agreement was rejected by two other, smaller groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and a rival faction of the SLA. The accord was orchestrated by the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick, Salim Ahmed Salim (working on behalf of the African Union), AU representatives, and other foreign officials operating in Abuja, Nigeria. The accord calls for the disarmament of the Janjaweed militia, and for the rebel forces to disband and be incorporated into the army.

July-August 2006

During July and August 2006, fighting had been renewed, "threatening to shut down the world's largest aid operation" as international aid organizations considered leaving due to attacks against their personnel. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for bringing a force of 18,000 international peacekeepers to the region in order to replace the African Union force of 7,000 (AMIS). In July 2006 at the Darfur town of Kalma, seven women, who ventured out of a refugee camp to gather firewood, were gang-raped, beaten and robbed by the Janjaweed. When they had finished, the attackers then stripped them naked and jeered at them as they fled.

On August 18, the deputy head of the UN Peacekeeping Forces, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hedi Annabi, warned during a private meeting that Sudan appears to be undertaking preparations for a major military offensive in the region. The warning came a day after UN Commission on Human Rights special investigator Sima Samar stated that Sudan's efforts in the region remains poor despite the May Agreement. On August 19, Sudan reiterated its opposition to replacing the 7,000 AU force with a 17,000 UN one, resulting in the US issuing a "threat" to Sudan over the "potential consequences" of this position.

On August 24, Sudan rejected attending a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting to explain its plan of sending 10,000 Sudanese soldiers to Darfur instead of the proposed 20,000 UN peacekeeping force. The UNSC announced it will hold the meeting despite Sudan's refusal to attend. Also on August 24, the International Rescue Committee reported that hundreds of women were raped and sexually assaulted around the Kalma refugee camp during the last several weeks. The Janjaweed has used rape as a weapon. Culturally in the region, raped women are considered unclean, and are ostracized. Women are even raped in open, public places to increase humiliation for them and their families. The extent of rape used in attacks is likely greater than documented, because women who have been raped are usually reluctant to come forward. On August 25, the head of the US State Department's Bureau of African Affairs, Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, warned that the region faces a security crisis unless the proposed UN peacekeeping force is allowed to deploy.

On August 26, two days before the UNSC meeting, and on the day Frazer was due to arrive in Khartoum, Paul Salopek, a US National Geographic Magazine journalist appeared in court in Darfur facing charges of espionage; he had crossed into the country illegally from Chad, due to the strict rules against foreign journalists. He was later released after direct negotiation with President al-Bashir. This came a month after Tomo Kriznar, a Slovenian presidential envoy, was sentenced to two years for spying.

New proposed UN peacekeeping force

On August 31, 2006, the UNSC approved a resolution to send a new peacekeeping force of 17,300 to the region. Sudan has expressed strong opposition to the resolution. On September 1, 2006, African Union officials reported that Sudan had launched a major offensive in Darfur. According to the AU, over 20 people were killed and 1,000 were displaced during clashes that began earlier in the week. On September 5, Sudan has asked the AU force in Darfur to leave the region by the end of the month, adding that "they have no right to transfer this assignment to the United Nations or any other party. This right rests with the government of Sudan." On September 4, 2006, in a move not viewed as surprising, Chad's president Idriss Déby voiced support for the new UN peacekeeping force. The AU, whose peacekeeping force mandate expires on September 30, 2006, has confirmed that they will do so. The next day, however, a senior US State Department official who declined to be identified, told reporters that the AU force might remain in the region past the deadline, citing this possibility as a "viable, live option."

Implementation failure (September 2006)

On September 8, 2006, head of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, said Darfur faces a "humanitarian catastrophe." On September 12, 2006, Sudan's European Union envoy Pekka Haavisto claimed that the Sudanese army is "bombing civilians in Darfur". A World Food Program official reported that food aid has been cut off from at least 355,000 people in the region.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UNSC that "the tragedy in Darfur has reached a critical moment. It merits this council's closest attention and urgent action."

On September 14, 2006, the leader of the now defunct Sudan Liberation Movement, currently Senior Assistant to the President of the Republic and Chairman of the Regional Interim Authority of Darfur, Minni Minnawi, stated that he does not object to the new UN peacekeeping force, thereby breaking ranks with the Sudanese government who consider such a deployment to be an act of Western invasion. Minnawi claimed that the AU force "can do nothing because the AU mandate is very limited." Khartoum, however, remained sternly against the UN peacekeeping force, with Sudanese president Al-Bashir depicting it as a colonial plan, and stating that "we do not want Sudan to turn into another Iraq."

Deterioration (October-November 2006)

On October 2, with the UN force plan indefinitely suspended on account of Sudanese opposition, the AU announced that it will extend its presence in the region until December 31, 2006. Two hundred UN troops were sent to reinforce the AU force. On October 6, the UNSC voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sudan until April 30, 2007. On October 9, the Food and Agriculture Organization listed Sudan's Darfur region as the most pressing food emergency out of the forty countries listed on its Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. On October 10, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, claimed that the Sudanese government had prior knowledge of attacks by Janjaweed militias in Buram, South Darfur the month before, an attack which saw hundreds of civilians killed.

On October 12, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria Joy Ogwu arrived in Darfur for a two-day visit. She urged the Sudanese government to accept a UN formula. Speaking in Ethiopia, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo spoke against "stand[ing] by and see[ing] genocide being developed in Darfur." On October 13, US President George W. Bush imposed further sanctions against those deemed complicit in the Darfur atrocities under the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006. The measures were said to strengthen existing sanctions by prohibiting US citizens from engaging in oil-related transactions with Sudan (although US companies were prohibited from doing any business with Sudan since 1997), freezing the assets of complicit parties and denying them entry to the US.

Because the African Union Mission in Sudan is underfunded and badly equipped, it is said that until December 31, violence in Darfur will worsen, with government troops and allied militias, as well as rebels, blamed for new attacks. But so far there is no agreement on what will happen after that date. Aid workers say their access is severely limited by fighting, and some have warned the humanitarian situation could deteriorate to levels seen in 2003 and 2004 when U.N. officials called Darfur the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

On 22 October 2006, the Sudanese government told U.N. envoy Jan Pronk to leave the country within three days. Pronk, the senior U.N. official in the country, had been heavily criticized by the army after he posted a description of several recent military defeats in Darfur to his personal blog. On November 1, the US announced that it will be formulating an international plan which they hoped the Sudanese government will find more palatable. On November 9, senior Sudanese presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie told reporters that his government is prepared to start unconditional talks with the National Redemption Front (NRF) -the rebel alliance in Darfur- but noted he saw little use for a new peace agreement. The NRF, who had rejected the May Agreement (only an inter-SLM faction was signatory to it), did not issue a comment. It had previously sought a new peace agreement. In late 2006, Darfur Arabs started their own rebel group, The Popular Forces Troops, and announced on December 6 that they had repulsed an assault by the Sudanese army at Kas-Zallingi the previous day. In a statement, they called the Janjaweed mercenaries who do not represent Darfur's Arabs. Since 2003, numerous Darfur Arab groups have announced their opposition to the government's war, some signing political accords with rebel movements.

Some of the splits within the Arab forces were tribe based. Sometime in late 2006, for example, relations between the farming Terjem and nomadic, camel-herding Mahria tribes became tense. Terjem leaders accused the Mahria of kidnapping a Terjem boy, and Mahria leaders said the Terjem were stealing their animals even before that. Ali Mahamoud Mohammed, the wali, or governor, of South Darfur, said the fighting began in December when the Mahria drove their camels south in a seasonal migration, trampling through Terjem territory near the Bulbul River. Fighting would later resume in July 2007.

Proposed UN force and Sudanese offensive

On November 17, reports of a potential deal to place a "compromise peacekeeping force" in Darfur were announced, but would later appear to have been rejected by Sudan. The UN, nonetheless, claimed on November 18 that Sudan agreed to the deployment of UN peacekeepers. Sudan's Foreign Minister Lam Akol stated that "there should be no talk about a mixed force" and that the UN's role should be restricted to technical support. Also on November 18, the AU reported that Sudanese military and Sudanese-backed militias had launched a ground and air operation in the region which resulted in about 70 civilian deaths. The AU stated that this "'was a flagrant violation of security agreements.'"

On November 25, a spokesperson for United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour accused the Sudanese government of having committed "a deliberate and unprovoked attack" against civilians in the town of Sirba on November 11, which claimed the lives of at least 30 people. The Commissioner's statement maintained that "contrary to the government’s claim, it appears that the Sudanese Armed Forces launched a deliberate and unprovoked attack on civilians and their property in Sirba," and that this also involved "extensive and wanton destruction and looting of civilian property."

January - April 2007 cease-fire agreement

According to the Save Darfur Coalition, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and President al-Bashir have agreed to a cease-fire whereby the Sudanese "government and rebel groups will cease hostilities for a period of 60 days while they work towards a lasting peace." In addition, the Save Darfur press release stated that the agreement "included a number of concessions to improve humanitarian aid and media access to Darfur." Despite the formality of a ceasefire there have been further media reports of killings and other violence. On Sunday April 15, 2007, African Union peacekeepers were targeted and killed. The New York Times reported that "a confidential United Nations report says the government of Sudan is flying arms and heavy military equipment into Darfur in violation of Security Council resolutions and painting Sudanese military planes white to disguise them as United Nations or African Union aircraft."

The violence has spread over the border to Chad. On March 31, 2007 Janjaweed militiamen killed up to 400 people in the volatile eastern border region of Chad near Sudan. The attack took place in the border villages of Tiero and Marena. The villages were encircled and then fired upon. Fleeing villagers were later subsequently chased. The women were robbed and the men shot according to the UNHCR. There were many who, despite surviving the initial attack, ended up dying due to exhaustion and dehydration, often while fleeing.

On April 14, 2007, more attacks within Chad were reported by the [UNHCR] to have occurred again in the border villages of Tiero and Marena. On April 18th President Bush gave a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum criticizing the Sudanese government and threatened the use of sanctions if the situation does not improve. Sanctions would involve restriction of trade and dollar transactions with the Sudanese government and 29 Sudanese businesses.

International Criminal Court charges

Sudan's humanitarian affairs minister, Ahmed Haroun, and a Janjaweed militia leader, known as Ali Kushayb, have been charged by the International Criminal Court with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Ahmed Haroun said he "did not feel guilty," his conscience was clear, and that he was ready to defend himself.

May 2007

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Chad president Idriss Deby signed a peace agreement on May 3, 2007 aimed at reducing tension between their countries. The accord was brokered by Saudi Arabia. It sought to guarantee that each country would not be used to harbor, train or fund armed movements opposed to the government of the other. The Reuters News Service reported that "Deby's fears that Nouri's UFDD may have been receiving Saudi as well as Sudanese support could have pushed him to sign the Saudi-mediated pact with Bashir on Thursday". Colin Thomas-Jensen, an expert on Chad and Darfur who works International Crisis Group think-tank has grave doubts as to whether "this new deal will lead to any genuine thaw in relations or improvement in the security situation". Additionally The Chadian rebel Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) which has fought a hit-and-run war against Chad President Deby's forces in east Chad since 2006 stated that the Saudi-backed peace deal would not stop its military campaign. Only the carrot and stick of Saudi aid to the UFDD may have forced the Chad government to the table. Thus the agreement may end up hurting the Sudanese rebels the most, leaving the Sudanese government with a freer hand. Also in May, locations related to the conflict were added in Google Earth.

Russian and Chinese undermining of sanctions

Amnesty International issued a report accusing Russia and China of supplying arms, ammunition and related equipment to Sudan. This hardware has been transferred to Darfur for use by the government and the Janjaweed militias and thus violating a UN arms embargo against Sudan. In its report it showed a photo of Chinese-made Fantan fighters that have been seen at Nyala, Darfur and a Ukranian Antonov-26 aircraft (painted white). The report provided evidence (including eyewitness testimony) that the Sudan Air Force has been conducting a pattern of indiscriminate aerial bombings of villages in Darfur and eastern Chad using ground attack jet fighters and Antonov planes. The report contained an image of a Russian made Mi-24 attack helicopter (reg. n° 928) at Nyala airport in Darfur in March of 2007. For several years the Sudan Air Force has used this type of attack helicopter for operations during Janjaweed attacks on villages in Al Darfur. The report also showed evidence that the government has been camouflaging military aircraft and helicopters by painting them white and in doing so, tried to cover up their military use by claiming that they were civilian in nature. The photo of the white Antonov-26 aircraft was reported to have been used in Darfur in bombing missions. China and Russia denied they had broken UN sanctions. China has a close relationship with Sudan and increased its military co-operation with the government in early 2007. Because of Sudan's plentiful supply of oil China considers good relations with Sudan to be a strategic necessity that is needed to fuel its booming economy. China also has direct commercial interests in Sudan's oil. China’s state-owned company CNPC controls between 60 and 70 percent of Sudan’s total oil production. Additionally It owns the largest single share (40 percent) of Sudan’s national oil company, Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company. China has also consistently opposed economic and non-military sanctions on Sudan. Recently, however, a Small Arms Survey research paper suggested that China may be changing its stance on Darfur due to international pressure.

June 2007

Oxfam announced on June 17 that it is permanently pulling out of Gereida, the largest camp in Darfur, where more than 130,000 have sought refuge. The agency cited inaction by local authorities from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), which controls the region, in addressing security concerns and violence against aid workers. An employee of the NGO Action by Churches Together was murdered in June in West Darfur. There has been a continuation of hijackings of vehicles belonging to the UN and other international organizations - something that is also making them think twice about staying in the region.

July 2007

BBC News reported that a huge underground lake has been found in the Darfur region. It is suggested that this find could help end the war as it could eliminate the existing competition for precious water resources. France and Britain announced they will push for a U.N. resolution to dispatch African Union and United Nations peacekeepers to Darfur and will push for an immediate cease-fire in Darfur and are prepared to provide "substantial" economic aid "as soon as a cease-fire makes it possible."

A July 14, 2007 article notes that in the past two months up to 75,000 Arabs from Chad and Niger crossed the border into Darfur. Most have been relocated by Sudanese government to former villages of displaced non-Arab people.

The hybrid UN/AU force was finally approved on 31 July 2007 with the unanimously approved United Nations Security Council Resolution 1769. UNAMID will take over from AMIS by 31 December 2007 at the latest, and has an initial mandate up to 31 July 2008.

On July 31, the ongoing conflict between the Terjem and the Mahria tribes (former partners in the Janjaweed) heated up, with Mahria gunmen surrounding mourners at the funeral of an important Terjem sheik and killing 60 with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and belt-fed machine guns.

August 2007

From 3 August 2007 until 5 August 2007, a conference was held in Arusha, Tanzania, to unite the different existing rebel groups to make the subsequent peace negotiations with the government of Sudan more streamlined. Most senior rebel leaders attended, with the notable exception of Abdul Wahid al Nur, who — while not in command of large forces, but a rather small splinter group of the SLA/M he initially founded in 2003 — is considered to be the representatives of a large part of the displaced Fur people, and there have been concerns that his absence would be damaging to the peace talks. International officials have stated that the difficulty lies in the fact that there is "no John Garang in Darfur", referring to the leader of the negotiating team of South Sudan, who was universally accepted by all the various South Sudanese splinter groups.

The leaders who arrived on Friday were Gamali Galaleiddine,] Khalil Abdalla Adam, Salah Abu Surra, Khamis Abdallah Abakar, Ahmed Abdelshafi, Abdalla Yahya, Khalil Ibrahim (of the Justice and Equality Movement) and Ahmed Ibrahim Ali Diraige. The schedule for Saturday consists of closed-door meetings between the AU-UN and rebel leaders, as well as between rebel leaders alone. In addition to those eight, eight more arrived there late on 4 August (including Jar el-Neby, Salah Adam Issac and Suleiman Marajan), whereas the SLM Unity faction will also boycott the talks as the Sudanese government has threatened to arrest Suleiman Jamous if he leaves hospital. The rebel leaders aim to unify their positions and demands, which are certain to include compensation for the victims and autonomy for Darfur.

They eventually reached agreement on joined demands, including power and wealth sharing, security, land and humanitarian issues.

In the several months up through August, Arab tribes that had worked together in the Janjaweed militia began falling out among themselves, and even further splintered into factions. Terjem fought Mahria as thousands of gunmen from each side traveled hundreds of miles to fight in the strategic Bulbul river valley. Farther south, Habanniya and Salamat tribes clashed. The fighting did not result in as much killing as in 2003 and 2004, the height of the violence. United Nations officials said the groups might be trying to seize land before U.N. and African Union peacekeepers arrived.

September 2007

On 6 September 2007, the next round of peace talks was set to begin on 27 October 2007. On 18 September 2007, JEM stated that if the peace talks with Khartoum should fail, they would step up their demands from self-determination to independence for the Darfur region.

On September 30, 2007, the rebels overrun an AMIS base, killing at least 12 peacekeepers in "the heaviest loss of life and biggest attack on the African Mission" during a raid at the end of Ramadan season.


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